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In spite of COVID, chefs are still bringing the art of backyard pig picking to the City of Oaks.
Raleigh foodies billed 2020 as “the year of barbecue,” with excitement brimming over several new barbecue restaurants slated to open in town. And, though the coronavirus shutdown threw a wrench in some pitmasters’ plans, not even an international pandemic can stand between Raleighites and their beloved barbecue for very long.
North Carolina has long been known as a barbecue destination, and the battle between the state’s Eastern and Western styles has raged for decades. Now, with celebrity chefs and famous pitmasters flocking to the Triangle, Raleigh is looking to make its name as a barbecue capital.
Before we all go hog wild, we wanted to find out whether plans for various, much-hyped barbecue joints were smoking hot or on the back burner. To be sure, the cloud of COVID-19 still looms (an estimated 60 percent of restaurant closures nationally are feared to be permanent). Will this year still usher in a barbecue revolution for Raleigh? Dig in and see for yourself.
Expected Opening Date: Fall
Jake Wood likes to think outside of the box. Bringing Lawrence Barbecue to Boxyard RTP, he plans to unite two popular, local pastimes: eating barbecue and slurping oysters. Boxyard RTP, a modern retail hub that looks to transform what it means to eat, drink and shop local in the Triangle, is a unique setup of food and retail vendors, utilizing shipping containers to house businesses such as Fullsteam Brewery and Medicine Mama’s Farmacy. Wood has been busy not only preparing to open to the public this fall, but serving more than 500 free meals to service industry and frontline workers throughout the COVID pandemic. With ample outdoor seating to allow for social distancing, whether you’re seeking pulled or shucked, Lawrence Barbecue will surely hit the spot.
Sam Jones Barbecue
Expected Opening Date: November
You just can’t talk about North Carolina barbecue without mentioning the name “Sam Jones.” Part of a six-generation barbecue family, the James Beard Award finalist is bringing his renowned skills to the former Dusty’s Garage space near Boylan Heights in downtown Raleigh. Jones’ grandfather opened the famed Skylight Inn in Ayden, North Carolina in 1947, and in 2015, the first Sam Jones Barbecue opened its doors in Winterville. “We take great pride in the tradition of cooking whole hogs over wood, which is something that had almost become a thing of the past,” Jones says. As he does at the Skylight Inn, Jones will smoke his meats in a detached smokehouse; but unlike at Skylight, Sam Jones Barbecue will serve a full bar of cocktails, beer and wine. With an opening date fast-approaching, we won’t have long to wait before we’re enjoying some legendary Sam Jones ‘cue.
Wyatt’s Whole Hog Barbecue
Expected Opening Date: 2021
It’s no surprise that barbecue fans are eagerly awaiting the opening of Wyatt’s Whole Hog Barbecue in the newly revitalized Gateway Plaza off of Capital Boulevard. Wyatt’s sister restaurant, PICNIC in Durham, was named one of Time Magazine’s “Eight Best BBQ Spots in the Carolinas” in 2016. “This is my first solo venture, so I’m excited to have more creative control, though my goal is to not stray too far from my roots,” says owner and pitmaster Wyatt Dickson. “I’m really proud of what [co-owner] Ryan Butler and I have created at PICNIC over these last four years and this is an opportunity to expand on that.”
We can look for Wyatt’s to be larger than PICNIC, both in terms of space as well as the overall experience. Smokers will be in full view for guests, adding to the restaurant’s look and feel, as well as to “reinforce our mission to preserve and honor the Eastern North Carolina whole hog barbecue tradition and showcase these beautiful pastured pigs that [Butler] raises exclusively for us at Green Button Farm,” Dickson says. Dickson’s restaurant will utilize the whole hog, serving house-made sausage and South Carolina style hash as well as traditional pulled pork. Wyatt’s is partnering with its Gateway neighbor, Union Special bakery, to use its buns for those hankering for a barbecue sandwich. While we hungrily await Wyatt’s official opening next year, customers can make orders a week in advance from PICNIC to be delivered to the Wyatt’s site every Thursday.
Expected Opening Date: TBD
Ed Mitchell, a name that became synonymous with barbecue when he brought the crowd-pleasing joint The Pit to downtown Raleigh, is bringing his talents to a new venture. The Preserve, to be be located on Creekside Drive in the old Carolina Ale House building, is joining LM Restaurants’ Lou Moshakos (owner of Carolina Ale House and Vidrio) with plans to showcase Mitchell’s cooking front and center. Though this powerhouse duo was hoping to open the doors to the public this year, COVID has curtailed plans for an opening in the near future. The team is currently shifting resources and working to get the kitchen space finished so that takeout and catering orders can begin to bring the ’cue to Mitchell’s fans on the double.
Expected Opening Date: September
The popular food truck Longleaf Swine is heading to its first brick-and-mortar location in the old Oakwood Café space on East Edenton Street. Diners will enjoy delicious barbecue, cooked with the whole hog, all-wood method, in a unique setting in the heart of the Oakwood Historic District. As the owners work to renovate the building, they plan to first set up the kitchen in hopes of serving guests in an outdoor space, as well as offering takeout. Pitmaster Marc Russell brings a hint of Puerto Rican flair to some of his dishes, such as local smoked whole fish with poblano rub, and esquites—the Longleaf take on corn off the cob with Cotija cheese.
Jason Howard, owner of The Cardinal Bar and the underground Atlantic Lounge, had hoped to open Friendship Barbecue on North West Street this year, but, due to COVID, he’s decided not to move ahead with the restaurant. Instead, Howard says, he is excited to continue work on the Rainbow Luncheonette and The Pink Boot, a bar, in the Rainbow Building at 911 North West Street, with plans to open as soon as dining and drinking restrictions are lifted.
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